Homeschooling is something that gets mixed reviews when I bring up that we plan on it for our daughter. Whereas most people we know are actually quite supportive, there are those that seem to truly believe that parents are not competent to teach their children. And so I thought I’d briefly talk about the reasons why we have decided to go this route and to clear up some of the misconceptions that may be out there about those of us who choose to teach our kids at home.
First, let’s clear up the misconceptions…
1. We don’t have a problem with teachers. I address this first because this seems to be a go-to for some people. Some believe the reason people homeschool is that we don’t trust or like teachers, when often nothing could be further from the truth (though we freely admit there are good and bad teachers out there, like every other profession). I have the utmost respect for good teachers. My brother just finished his teaching degree last year. My mother-in-law is a retired teacher. My husband’s father’s side of the family are almost all teachers. Of course, hearing this makes people even more curious about why we want to homeschool, but hopefully it’s clear we don’t hate teachers. That said, do I think one needs a teaching degree in order to homeschool well? No. Some people will not be great at conveying information to their children, some will be able to do so, though often those who aren’t good at it don’t really want to undertake it to begin with. This is especially true when thinking of the one-on-one teaching that homeschooling provides. As a parent, you know your child well and know how to work with them. Some teachers may be offended that we think we can do what they do without their education. I disagree. Where teachers are far superior to most parents, and where their education becomes paramount, is when it comes to teaching lots of children of differing abilities. I think of that scenario and will gladly hand over the reins to someone far more qualified than I.
2. We’re not homeschooling so she doesn’t learn about X,Y, or Z. Outside of hating teachers, people assume you homeschool because you’re religious and don’t want your child learning about evolution or sex ed or anything like that. Personally I plan to teach my daughter about all theories and views about the world (including religious ones, even though we are agnostic). As to sex ed, well, are the schools really getting it right? Do I really want my child learning it there? No, I will be making sure my child has ALL the information. Does this mean there aren’t parents who are doing what some fear? Of course not. But I would go so far as to say the majority of homeschoolers do not fall into this camp of trying to hide other points of view from our children (even the religious ones).
3. Group work and peer play time need not happen in school. I often get asked how my child will see other kids or learn how to work in a group if she’s homeschooled. I answer both of these with: Activities and plans outside school learning. Right now we attend a homeschool meet-up weekly where the kids all socialize together – different ages, abilities, etc. all playing at least once a week (and on average they socialize far better than the children we see at the public school). However, the older kids all do activities together too outside of that meet up so they’re seeing their friends on a regular basis. Sometimes group work is done during the meet-ups as kids will all work on something together (though sometimes they just play). We also will enroll our daughter in other group activities (drama, sports, etc.) that promote teamwork. In fact, I find most people learn better teamwork skills from things like a sports team than activities in the classroom where often one person takes the lead and does the work while the others mess around.
Now, the reasons we plan to homeschool?
1. We struggle with how schools are run today (where we are). Same-aged classrooms, teaching to the test, focus on the average student without much consideration of children’s individual abilities or strengths. These are all reasons we don’t like the current school model in terms of teaching. Then you add in that while there are wonderful teachers at every school, there are also shit teachers. I’ve heard my own teacher friends complain about the bad ones and frankly you don’t have much control over which teacher your child will end up with. And we’re not prepared to accept one year of bad teaching, much less the possibility of multiple ones.
2. We don’t like the type of socialization that happens in schools here. Bullying continues to be a huge problem in schools and neither schools nor parents seem ready to respond. Gender roles run rampant with girls and boys being teased for not conforming to the stereotypical way of behaving. Sadly this starts very young. Even in school plays we noticed early (my stepson attends public school) that the roles were not open to everyone. Boys played boy roles, girls played girl roles, even if the girls were itching to play a boy (who doesn’t want to be Santa when you’re young enough not to care?). And then of course there’s the issue of how children interact with different-aged playmates. The segregation of children by age in a classroom means there’s very little in the way of interactions with older or younger children. Kids don’t get to learn to be mentors, they don’t learn how to play appropriately with younger children, they don’t get to learn from looking to older kids on a regular basis (which is one of the best ways they learn). In short, we short-change our children socially in a school setting.
3. The structure of school days is developmentally inappropriate. Children are not supposed to be sitting for extended periods. They are not supposed to be inside for extended periods. Children need regular exercise breaks, they need to run free, to get fresh air. If we want our children to learn, they need to be outside every 45 minutes for a break. Sitting at a desk for most of the day at age 10 is far too far away from our hunter-gatherer ancestors who, at that age, would be hunting in the forest, or caring for children, or cooking food, or doing one of many other learning activities in an outdoor, active environment. And when schools take away recess as punishment? It ignores that most children who act out are doing so because they need the break. Take that away and you’re asking for more trouble for the child. Where we live we now also have full-day kindergarten which ignores the fact that many children still nap at that age. With no naptime and expectations of being able to sit still and pay attention for six to eight hours, we are creating problems in terms of our children’s sleep and mental well-being.
4. The content of most schooling (especially early) is developmentally inappropriate. When I see the push to start everything earlier, I cringe. Every bit of research has shown that starting formal education later and allowing children to learn through play early is essential to really learning. Children in Kindergarten don’t need to know how to read. Some might naturally be doing this, and that’s okay, but forcing it because we’ve seen in research that children “can” do it (even if they aren’t totally ready) isn’t great at all. We can all often do things outside of what we are capable of, but learning it at that point, when we haven’t mastered the foundations or don’t have the neural capacity, is idiotic. Waiting for children’s brains to be truly ready to master a new task is essential – especially tasks as important to our society as reading, writing, or math. Equally oddly, schooling then seems to assume our children are idiots later on (maybe we’ve made them that way) and the curriculum often falls on the side of too easy for a child that is working from a developmentally appropriate place. Homeschooling means we can follow a developmentally-appropriate curriculum.
5. We want to follow our daughter’s lead. There’s nothing like watching your child discover a passion and be able to roll with it with her until she loses interest (which may be years or never!). Not only is it amazing to watch the excitement your child develops over learning, but you know that when she learns something it’s going to be stuck. When she learns for herself, she will truly be learning. She won’t learn to regurgitate information on a test and then forget it, she will learn because she wants to learn. And here’s the secret that many parents have forgotten: Children want to learn. They so desperately want to explore the world and figure it out – we humans just seem to have this knack. Sadly children lose it when learning becomes a chore (but you can reclaim it by following their lead, even if it’s just outside of school), but if you can keep that curiosity alive in them, you can watch them learn a ton with just a bit of guidance. Homeschooling allows us to go this route: Follow our daughter as she finds passions and we have to work ourselves to fit concepts into things she’s already interested in (instead of asking her to try and be interested in something because it’s on the agenda for the day).
6. We really want to be involved in our daughter’s education. Yeah, you can join the Parents’ Association or volunteer in the classroom, but you really are just an observer to what your child is doing. And if you see behaviours you don’t like in the school or a teacher who’s calling it in, there really isn’t much you can do. We view our job as parents to prepare our children for life. As such, education is a huge part of this. If we lived in a place where we felt the schooling was developmentally appropriate and included lots of breaks for physical activity (like many schools in Europe) or we could afford some of the private schools that take this approach, we might consider it and then get involved as volunteers. However, for us, being hands on is very important and homeschooling is one way we can be involved in our child’s life and learning.
7. We value one-on-one attention for learning. The amount of time it takes to teach a child something when you are working directly with them is far less than when you have to speak broadly to 20 other children as well. In the latter case you need to take all kids into account and explain it in a way that most of them will get. One-on-one you get to tailor your explanations to that particular child. Of the families we know that homeschool, they spend a fraction of the time doing official schoolwork with their children and their children end up ahead. That’s a win-win in my books.
Is homeschooling for everyone? Nope. Some won’t feel confident in their abilities to teach their children. Some don’t have jobs or situations that would allow for it. Some simply aren’t interested in it. But those of us who are doing it aren’t trying to shelter our children, we don’t hate teachers, and we have very legitimate reasons for wanting to go this route. So please don’t worry about my child. Worry about fixing the school system that is causing so many people to look at alternatives to the public schooling that was once considered a great fixture of modern society.
[Image Credit: US Department of Education]